Skypeathon 2018

front picture slide

The annual Skypeathon gets bigger, better and more global each year. The dates for 2018 are Tuesday, November 13th and Wednesday 14th. The theme this year is “Open Hearts, Open Minds”.

I like the quote from this tweet from Microsoft in Education, Canada re “it is a live-learning marathon”.

The following tweet provides more details about the social goals for this year’s Skypeathon.

You can learn more by visiting the Skypeathon site Follow the steps to request mystery skype calls. There is an activity plan to organize your calls or digital passports, stickers  and posters etc to be had. If you follow the #skypeathon hashtag on twitter, there are opportunities for organic or unplanned connections with people who are looking for partners. However, for the miles to be recorded, please request a mystery skype call at the planned time.

Already planned Skype calls for my classes include the following countries

  • Argentina
  • USA (students are either sleeping over or staying back after school)
  • Philippines
  • India
  • Australia

Some of these involve live cultural or muscial performances, some are mystery skype calls and some are short sharing session. One is a connection with Microsoft manager talking about digital technology to my year 9/10 computer class. Are you going to be involved and if so, who will you connect with.



Breaking down Stereotypes with Mystery Skype


I could hardly believe my eyes when I received a request from  a teacher, named Ben, in the USA to play Mystery Skype with his class as our time zones rarely match. The only way we can usually connect in real time with the US students.

So, I double checked that Ben had his time zone set correctly in his profile in Skype in the Classroom. He assured me that it was indeed 3:00pm Thursday was for him when it was 9am the next day (Friday) for me. And it was! This is what our connection looked like:-

  1. Ben and I quickly tested our connections before our classes came in, as this was his classes’ first mystery Skype call.
  2. Once connected, we tossed a coin to work out who would ask the first question. They said ‘heads’ and the coin fell to ‘tails’. We asked the first question “Are you north of the equator?”
  3. By a process of taking it in turns to ask each other a question that required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, one of my girls eventually asked if they were from the USA.

They said ‘yes’ but immediately one of the boys said “No, they are not. They are from India”.  The girls who had asked the questions were darker skinned and did not look typically like the US people that we see on our television of computer screens. The class was from Arizona, near the Mexican border so the girls were Mexican in appearance.


The other thing that threw my students was that many of them did not speak English as their first language. Spanish was actually their first language. Again this was not what my students expected of US students. They thought that they would all speak English! Another lady also appeared on the screen towards the end, wearing a head scarf – something that my students were not expecting either. Many of us have clear ideas where we think people are from but videoconferencing tools like Skype break down the “stereotype” images that we have. We see people. We hear people. No longer do we read about them in our textbooks! The global stereotypes become challenged! Please remember that students in our rural school tend to be isolated culturally and geographically although we are getting some Asian dents from visa workers on the large corporate farms now.


Ben’s class were well organised and had signs ready for “just a moment” whilst they worked out answers to questions or determined questions to ask. A great idea of theirs was showing a picture book with a page full of their native animals. This was an interesting way of sharing a collection of native animals with another class.


Lessons learnt: The west coast of USA may actually be reachable and connectable ‘live’, whilst we are in daylight savings time.


Towards Problem Free Global Collaboration!

connecting with japan voicethread

A recent question, for discussion, was put up on our ISTE Global PLN Connects Site, by April DeGenarro and it read like this

“As a preventative tool, I am trying to create a list of things that every global collaborating teacher should do to work towards a problem-free global collaboration experience.  This mostly applies to the teacher-initiated projects where one teacher arranges to work with another teacher(s). What are some of the things you ALWAYS check before and during your projects?

global connections
My responses to this were:-

  1. What is the time frame for the project? (Can it be completed during my school term and school year as we start our Australian school year at the end of Jan and finish in Dec.) Shorter projects are much better to start with.
  2. What tools will be used – synchronous (will it be in real time) or asynchronous (non real time)? eg We are asleep when most of the USA is at school and our school day starts when US schools are finished, so synchronous connections are tricky.
  3. How confident are the teachers with the tools? Are they user friendly and free?
  4. Does my school have access to the tools to be used? ie are they blocked.
  5. What devices can be used by students – can the tools be used cross platform and devices.
  6. Age group for the project? I teach secondary but find that my students have more confidence when they work with younger ones eg using flipgrid pals. Therefore, cross age projects can work.
  7. How frequently will teachers communicate as good communication ensures a successful and completed project?
  8. Time zone differences (always need to be measured in UTC or GMT). This is one of my greatest challenges
  9. Test the connections if videoconferencing is to be used prior to a direct linkup.
  10. What language will be used? Will the tools used allow translation options?

After the project: 

Reflect on the project:

  1. Write a a journal entry, preferably as a blog post (students should do this too)
  2. Share class reflections on a flipgrid and share with the connecting class. Both classes could contribute to the flipgrid.
  3. Promote the activity via twitter and facebook and/or other social media channels.

Maintain the teacher to teacher connections.

Seek further ongoing connections to continue the learning.

Although global connections may not be completely trouble free there are things we can do to make them as engaging and powerful as possible.

Where to start: Coding with Scratch

As I have done little in the way of coding and programming (and have never learnt it formally), I am more than  nervous about introducing it into my classes. So reluctant in fact, that I have left this area of study until the last school term for years 7 and 8. Over the last few years a small group of students have been involved in the Games Net project with ACMI. This required them to collaboratively develop a game using Scratch, so I have simply watched them get involved! Most educators suggest starting to program with block coding and as Scratch is free, global and shares so many resources willingly, I am going to start my year 7 and 8 students programming in Scratch, even though the curriculum would suggest that I use more sophisticated coding programs. Some students have already used it in primary school, so hopefully, there are some experienced code crunchers in there!

However, as it is now part of the new Digitech curriculum, I am forced to take it on!! But where to get started???? In the past I have printed off a range of sheets with basic codes that can be used to move the cat sprite. Unfortunately this did not engage the students for long. One of my favourite sites for classroom resources is Tes. There are some wonderful resources shared by teachers – some free, some with a small charge. I went to the Resources tab, keyed in “Scratch” and found some great coding projects to create simple and more complex games. All the ones that I have used are free. I chose some that looked user friendly and engaging for students, downloaded and saved them on the network and printed some on our colour printer.

We started with was the worksheet Scratch by tonymitch. It was free. Students create a simple racing track as a backdrop, add a car sprite and code the car to race around the track.  Students who were more confident with Scratch used their creativity and changed the backdrop etc. Then went on to develop their own games. Beginner students tried some of the projects from this workbook by Nick Rickus (the maze game and frog game). These were more challenging and they had to use code that they had learnt from the racing track game to ensure it worked. (I think this is using the old version of Scratch.)

See games developed in Scratch by some of the year 7 students:

Mac Tank Game was his variation on  a maze game, his racing car game involves 2 players and his maze game

Next time I would use the following resources to introduce Scratch –

More resources:

  1. Scratch Session 1 of 3 – fish tank game which teaches scoring, timer and game over screen
  2. Scratch Gamepacks
  3. Scratch Workbooks
  4. Pacman Challenge

and so much more.

Once students completed their games, they had to share the project online in Scratch, grab the embed code from Scratch and place the games into their blogs.

Impact on students: Students are highly engaged. They love to play each other’s games and test them. They access the games via each other’s blogs. Students who would not normally achieve much in class due to low literacy levels are able to use code and are often become the ‘experts’. Some socially isolated students become the most adept and are highly sought after for their expertise in solving problems that often higher achieving students struggle with.

Further directions

Students will be encouraged to leave positive comments on each other’s blog posts with feedback on what they liked about the game and suggestions for improvements.



How to use Lego Mindstorms Robotics


Our school was part of the Digi Tech initiative and received $10000 to spend primarily on robotics. As part of this grant we purchased 6 EV312 Lego kits which came with a bonus Space Challenger. Being a complete newbie to robotics, I attended the 1.5 hour ‘hands on’ workshop at the recent ACCE conference entitled “Introductory robotics workshop coding made easy with LEGO Education EV3″ with Joanna Burk  from Modern Teaching Aids. We were encouraged to download the software prior to the workshop and work in pairs. These are some of my notes from the “hands on workshop”.


Items that are useful to store the lego securely


Following are some of the activities that we were involved in.

  1. Building a basic robotics car from the kit brought for us to practise one. Fortunately we had a sample one already built to copy.
  2. Estimated and then tested the distance of a full wheel rotation.
  3. Given a specified distance to program the robots to cover eg 1.43 metres. Tested our coding
  4. Then involved in a race with the other groups. Our robots had to stop at the people objects setup at the end of the race line.


Suggested Resources

Download the software which is now free. It uses block coding.

Ideas for best use: use a piece of foam so lego bits so they do not slip of the table.


Things to remember: When switching,  hold power button till light is ell green. All student projects will show up under save tab 4th tab in basic settings. Top left button is important cos it takes it back to beginning. Also turns off EV brick.


Modern Teaching Aids also sells mats that the Lego robotic cars can move around on.



Learning how to use Makey Makey with Scratch


At the recent ACCE conference, I attended as many ‘hands on’ workshops as possible as I am not at all confident with using coding and robotics. One of the sessions involved “Using Makey Makey with Scratch” with Meredith Ebbs, a NSW project officer. See her blog site for more – Observe, Learn, Do and KodeKlubbers


This session showed how to use Makey Makey with Scratch. As we have 6 makey makeys in our school, I was keen to learn more. They are cheaper options to get into for coding and programming than many of the robotic kits.

Possible uses:

  • Setup makey makey as a keyboard convertor, then integrate Scratch to program the Makey Makey
  • Could use  for quick one answer surveys (eg did you enjoy this lesson “yes”/”no” as students exit the classroom)
  • Make artworks and poster interactive (eg enable audio to sound on posters)
  • Can be used to add LEDs etc into the boards
  • Adding split pins to posters, activates storytelling which has been recorded in Scratch and activated by the makeymakey

What I learnt:

A good way to start using Makey Makey is to set up a keyboard using aluminium foil covered cards that are attached to the makey makey with crocodile clips. (Cards are required for each of the arrow keys and one for earthing). Then google for a “pacman game”. Use the foil covered cardboard and appropriately attached crocodile clips to the Makey Makey to play the game.



Some suggested resources:

  1. – fantastic online document including all resources shared together with Meredith’s actual presentation
  2. CSER MOOC – free online open source PD
  3. Follow Colleen Graves on twitter

Some other useful extras

  • buy a caterer’s bulk pack of aluminium foil
  • photo below shows some other useful items


The picture below shows an object useful to use as a voting lever as students eg leave the classroom for evaluation or to vote in a simple survey.


Some code that might be useful




The ImpaCT of Global Classrooms

the races.jpg

The Australian Council for Computers in Education hold a conference in Australia every two years. This year it was held in Sydney at Randwick Racecourse, with the theme of ImpaCT. See the full program 

My presentation was based on The ImpaCT of Global Classrooms and the impact it has had particularly on my classes and students. The session descriptor is as follows and the presentation can be seen above.

By attending this session, participants will explore and gain “hands on experience” in the
• hear inspiring and amazing classroom stories of collaborative global classrooms
• explore online tools for communication, connection and collaboration both synchronously
and asynchronously. These tools are free, cross platform, cross device and accessible to the
majority of classes across the world. Some are proven tools over time and some are the
latest trending tools
• Learn how to get started 😊
• Where to find global projects – both simple and complex mnm  mmmm
• Discuss tips for success
• Explore the challenges of collaborating globally
• How to overcome the challenges including the challenges of cultural and religious
differences, language barriers, accents, time zones and more
• Understand the need for and the power of developing a personal learning network
• How to develop a professional learning network and learning communities to join

Unfortunately, Todays Meet (a backchannel) is no longer available. This would have added interactivity to the session. The time slot was only 30 mins in length, so there was no time for interactivity. An online document of resources was shared.